The primary partners in this endeavor are the Fairway Foundation of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp, the Long Island Board of Realtors (LIBOR), the Interior Design Society of LI (IDS LI), and the NYC/Long island Chapter of the National Association of Remodeling Industries (NYC/LI NARI). Go to their websites. Check out their Facebook pages. In doing so, you can find out about what they do for a living and for giving. This is huge to them, but it's not the only thing!
You can see what they had to say to us about the project here. The story got a lot of coverage, including a feature on the CBS Evening News. The core team offers many grateful thanks to so many who in one way or another helped them purchase and transform this house into a beautiful home for veteran Kevin Palacios, who did two tours in Afghanistan, was wounded by IEDs on multiple occasions and now has as his top priority being a good father to his young son.
Donations of Products and Services
Demolition of kitchen and bathrooms – Probst Construction – John Probst
Riverhead Building Supply – Sheetrock
Speonk Lumber – base and door molding
Fairway Foundation – Doors – Steve Probst
Installation of bathrooms, doors, sheetrock, moldings –
LI members – Laurence Carolan & staff,
John Hogan. Jason Braithwaite, Eric Vogel,
Kitchen to Mud room entry construction – Dean Camastro
Basement Restoration – Bulovas Restoration – Rory
Dumpster Supply – Maggio Environmental Services
Brick Stairs and Retaining Wall - Farmingville Masonry Supply - Tony Melo
Coastal Cabinet Works – kitchen cabinets – Ricky & Karen Young
Installation of kitchen cabinets – Dean Camastro, Eric Vogel, Jason Braithwaite
Cabinet Hardware – Hardware for kitchen cabinets, bedroom,
media cabinet and all doors – Kolson Korenge Hardware- Dale Landy
Installation of cabinet and door hardware – Dean Camastro
Media cabinets – Nava Slavin
Painting of media cabinets – Debbie Viola
Renovation of cabinets for media – Joe Calise & PIF committee
Stone Top for media cabinet – Farmingville Masonry Supply – Tony Melo
Quartz Stone Countertop for Kitchen – Cambria Stone – Wendy Brady
Installation of kitchen countertop – North East Quartz
Vanities – both bathrooms – Merri Interiors – Meredith Weiss
Vanity stone tops – All Island Stone
Installation of vanities – Dean Camastro
Kitchen appliances – Plessers Appliance – Jason Braithwaite
TV – Hampton Appliance – Frank Ingraldi
Installation of appliances – Jason Braithwaite, Eric Vogel
Installation of TV -- Sights-N-Sounds/Joe Calise
Gabe Lissy, Electrician – installation of lighting fixtures, new
wiring, replace panel box, recessed lighting.
Revco electric – wiring supplies, recessed lights
Rons East End Electric – supplies & staff
Elements at Home – Lamps, etc. – Brian Kellenberg
Elegance Lighting – ceiling fans vanity light, bath fans – Harry Caldera
Lighting Gallery – Pendant Lights - kitchen peninsula – Michael Lichtenstein
Continental Lighting – ceiling fan, semi flush fixture – Stephen
Hafele – Under Cabinet Lighting – Michael Reichert
Dynomite Floors – refinishing wood floors – Mike DeRasmo
Karndeen – Vinyl flooring for kitchen & mud room – Daryl Pines
Designers North & Pro Source
Installation of Kitchen sub floor – Dean Camastro
Installation of kitchen & mud room vinyl floor – John Hogan,
Rugs – Area rugs for living room, master bedroom, blue bedroom –
Designer Rugs & Carpet by Peykar – Robert Hakimi
Area Rug for green bedroom – Harry Katz Carpet One – Cindy Sigadel
Area Rug – Bonnie Reich & Sheree Jeanes
Living Room Etagere, two bedroom dressers – Designs by Peggy Peggy Guerrin
Sofa, cocktail table, ottoman for living room – The Robert Allen
Duralee Group – Nina Belczynski
Dining Table – East End Interiors – Sal Campitiello
Dining Room Chairs – Rich Designs, Lisa Aiello D. Manicone Designs – Dee Manicone
End Tables, Accent Chairs – Elements at Home – Brian Kellenberg
Dining Room Console – base – Elements at Home, Glass
Top – Merrick Glass – Bob
Master Bedroom Furniture – Dressers & Nightstands – All County Millwork – Terry Gagliardo
Delivery of furniture – Living Room – Corporate Transport - Bill
Delivery of Master Bedroom furniture – Transolutions – Tom
Kitchen Banquette – Wood supplied – Designs by Peggy, Peggy
Guerrin & Ruth S. Interiors, Ruth Seidenberg
Kitchen Banquette – Construction – JG Construction – John Gardner
Chair reupholstery & banquette cushion – Creative Upholstery –Ralph DeLella
Headboards – Fabrics – Kravet Fabrics – Ellen Kravet
Headboard construction & supplies: wood – Symmetry Closets –Bonnie Reich,
Batting – D.Manicone Design – Dee Manicone
Fabrication – PIF committee team
Designers Workroom, Sadie Dunbar
Corner Cabinet – green bedroom – Kathy & Barry Gluckin
Mattresses – Queen & twin set – Frank & Marianne Matera
Twin Set – Harry Katz Carpet One – Cindy Sigadel
Bedding – blue bedroom – Designs by Peggy – Peggy Guerrin
Master & green bedroom – IDS/Long Island
Outdoor Table & Chairs – Rich Designs, Lisa Aiello Out of the Box Outdoor Furniture
Security System Sights n Sounds – Joe Calise
Sherwin Williams Paints – Nikki Parnell
Painting – all interior painting – Pic Painting – Louie Picarella
Tile for both bathrooms – Cancos Tile – Bernadette Valva White, Neil Swenning,
Tile Installation – Hall Bath – Tony LaBarbera, Global Ceramic Tile, John Hogan
Tile Installation – Master Bath – Tile to Perfection – Joey DiPasquale
Fixtures – Shower Body, Tub Set, Faucets for kitchen &
Baths – Hansgrohe – Dean Camastro
Toilets, Sinks, Tub, baseboard covers – Utica Plumbing – Josh Brandner
Installation of toilets, tub, shower body, faucets – Dean Camastro and Chris Attard
Repair – baseboard & service burner – PJ Bruno plumbing
Recondition Air Conditioning System – Jen-Air HVAC
Blinds for all windows – Wendy Interiors, Wendy Lepkoff and
Benco Construction, Pat Bentivegna , NARI
Installation of Blinds & Cornices – Sal Palmeri
Fabrication of Cornices – Designers Workroom, Sadie Dunbar
Fabric for Cornices – Kravet Fabrics
Drapery – Living room, dining room, master bedroom – fabrics
Drapery Fabrication and installation – living room & dining room –
Eclectic Window Fashions – Nora Milheron
Drapery Fabrication – Master Bedroom – On Beyond Windows –
Drapery Installation – Master Bedroom – Joe Calise
Drapery Hardware – living, dining and master bedrooms –
Van Wyck Hardware – Lisa Messina
Closet systems for all closets – Symmetry closets – Bonnie Reich
Art & Accessories
Artwork – Nancy Ganzekaufer
Framing – Sidewalk Alley Art Gallery – Jane
Artwork – La Mantia Gallery – James La Mantia
Debbie Viola, Art & Finishes by Debbie Viola
Accessories – Nancy Ganzekaufer, Elements at Home,
Interiors by Dafna – Mirror – Dafna Adler
Wall Sconces – Christine Conte Interiors
Isabel Interiors – Mirror, Counter stools
IDS/Long Island – Mud room accessories
Cornhole Game – Design & Construction – Ken Denninger
Gift Baskets - Denis & Rosemarie Conway
Power Wash of house – Pic Painting, Louie Picarella
Old Town Landscaping – planting & clean up
BB&GG Nursery – Shrubs
DeLea Sod Farms – mulch & seed
Farmingville Masonry – Bluestone Steps & Border – Tony Melo
Irrigation System – Get It Wet with Brookhaven Irrigation
Dumpster supplied - Maggio Environmental Services
Removal of window and siding repair – Probst Construction – John Probst
Use of sound system for presentation – Lets Think On It
Donor List Sign – Signwave – Dan Simon
Selection, Scheduling, Coordination, Pick up, Deliveries, and various installations – PIF Committee members, IDS/LI
Dee Manicone, Lisa Aiello, Isabel Melo, Peggy Guerrin,
Ruth Seidenberg, Mary Nolte, Dafna Adler, Sandra Asdourian,
Dean Camastro, Joe Calise
Sometimes, social media is terrible. There are certain people, though, who make it wonderful. We have been fans of Kim Skillen since we met her back in 2012 as part of an intrepid tribe, the "Friends of Long Island," who rose up in the wake of Superstorm Sandy to help their neighbors across the South Shore. Soon after we “friended” her, we started seeing posts about her artistically talented, delightfully, uniquely-herself daughter, Mackenzie. Kim’s mother, Judy is wonderful, too, but that’s another story.
Over the years we have watched Mackenzie assist her mom in all manner of helpfulness, gradually becoming a force for kindness all her own. We have witnessed her drag enormous bags of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into New York City to feed the homeless folks she passed. She’s also done quite a bit to gather supplies for those in need at home. We’ve watched mother and daughter travel to Puerto Rice to help out in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. We’ve seen them work together to beautify their own West Babylon Community, and do other many things we can hardly count here. We witnessed Mackenzie be inducted into the Town of Babylon Youth Court and win a much deserved “Eagle Award” for compassion, and a Leadership Award at her West Babylon High School. She is generally revealed to be a great, fun friend.
Last May, Mackenzie began preparing for a second voyage to Haiti to work with orphans there as part of a project called Open Door Haiti . This is what we read:
“Everyone this is Mackenzie! I have taken over my mom's Facebook page to talk to you about the Bracelet Project for Haiti! I NEED YOUR HELP! We will be going to Haiti in the end of June to work with Open Door Haiti. My favorite part of the trip is working with the orphans. Last year we made over 125 bracelets that I handed out to the orphans and children in the community to let them know we care. I would like to bring even more bracelets to Haiti this summer. The look on the children's faces when they got a gift was unforgettable!”
"This is what I need from you... make a homemade bracelet, take your picture, write a note (Creole or English) and put it all in a zip lock bag (see the pics below). I will hand out the bracelets to all the kids I see and try to take as many pics as I can so you can see the child who got your bracelet. I feel this project is important because it gives kids here a connection to kids in Haiti. It also gives the kids in Haiti a present and picture of someone who cares about them. I am willing to come talk to anyone who is interested and wants to learn more about Open Door Haiti and the Bracelet Project..”
When asked if there were other ways to help, Mackenzie created an Amazon wish list of things she knew the orphans would love, including shoes, art supplies, jump ropes, and hair clips for the girls. She invited people to send things they thought would be useful. She noted that she would love to make sure all the orphans have new shoes.
“I wish I took a picture of Mackenzie’s face when we got home and found the first delivery from Amazon,” said Kim, “She was so excited to see that people took the time to help her efforts!!
Bracelets began to be made all over town. More items from Mackenzie’s Haiti Amazon Wish List arrived. Teachers opened their classrooms to Mackenzie to speak
“I must admit it was pretty fun to watch Mackenzie as she spent time with the students!!” wrote Kim, as they offered grateful thanks.
She ultimately collected 408 Bracelets, complete with notes and friendly pictures of the children who sent their love. People from ages 4-80 participated, including friends, Sunday school kids, Girl Scouts, elementary and middle school classes. The bracelets nearly filled her entire carry on. Her suitcase was packed with crocs, soccer balls, art supplies, hair accessories and school supplies.
It was enough to make sure every orphan she worked with would get a new pair of shoes. Reporting on a what she had just heard from her daughter, Kim said Mackenzie told her that “she designed and painted a mural at the orphanage today and is feverishly handing out bracelets. She was excited because she saw a girl playing and realized the shoes on her feet were a pair of crocs she brought down!!”
Says Mackenzie, “I am overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity and support.”
We are overwhelmed by her. Awesome.
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation Serves Those Who Serve, IDS Members Pay it Forward, LIBOR and NARI are All On Board -- Thank You to ALL Who Made This Happen!
We were first introduced to this endeavor to purchase and remodel a house in order to give it, mortgage-free, to a post-9/11 Purple Heart recipient by Rosemarie Kluepfel of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. and Daphna Adler of Interiors by Daphna Adler at a SCWBEC (Suffolk County Women’s Business Enterprise Coalition) meeting. We’ve mentioned it more than twice over the last year and a half, and have become fully enamored with the merry band of designers, remodelers and others who have given so much to make this happen.
Most of the quotes here come from a pre-gifting gathering at the house featuring many who had participated. A few others come from the day they actually got to see the winning veteran’s face and give him a hug. They've endeavored to thank the many involved here. To say they were uplifted by the process, despite every challenge, is an understatement.
The Fairway Foundation started on this project five years ago. It took over two years to identify and purchase the house. They enlisted the Long Island Interior Design Society (IDS LI) and their “Pay It Forward East” campaign. to brighten the place up a bit. Several of them were also members of the NYC/Long Island branch of National Association of Remodeling Industries (NARI). They started getting a little more ambitious, and that group came on as a full-fledged partner. The donations of expertise, elbow grease and materials began to snowball.
“The fundraising. What a miracle!” said Steve Probst of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. “The $150,000+ that it took just to buy the house, including the closing costs and everything, had our Foundation pretty much tapped out. Then these comedians and bands stepped up to perform for free at fundraising concerts for our Purple Heart Campaign. That, together with so many suppliers and designers and builders and other professionals donating so much are really what made this happen.”
“This was a total collaboration of IDS members coming together to work with the Fairway Foundation,” said Joe Calise of Sights-N-Sounds, President of IDS LI. “Others jumped in, all coming together for this wonderful cause. We needed contractors. A lot of our members are also members of NARI, so it was natural for us to ask them. They stepped up in a big way. It was great!”
Lisa Aiello of Rich Designs noted that, “I think this project is so successful because everyone managed to check their egos at the door, making it that much easier to work cohesively together.”
“We renovated this house from top to bottom. There’s well over $100,000 worth of renovation work in here.” said John Probst, Steve’s son, who happens to be a builder.
“Coastal Cabinet, Plessers Appliances and the charitable arm of NARI probably donated about $15,000 in labor alone,” said Eric Vogel of Coastal Cabinet Works, “Sheetrocking, doing the bathroom and the whole kitchen…. The leadership did a great job of rallying our troops to serve this veteran.”
“The volunteers were fantastic. For example, an electrician named Gabe put countless hours into this. He is just an incredible young man. I feel so blessed to have met him. I’m glad he and my son are now good friends,” said Steve Probst, adding, “This is great to be able to do this for this veteran. I’ve got to say, though, it’s had a big impact on all of us, too. It’s an amazing thing. We’ve gotten so much out of this.”
(This in particular, really tickles Trudy and I because it was one of YOU dear readers – an incredible asset to LI in his own right -- who tapped Gabe Lissy on the shoulder to see if he might like to get involved. Thank you, Jon!!!)
“This whole thing took on a life of its own,” said Steve, “It was an amazing journey that I don’t think anyone could foresee. The amount of people stepping up and their level of generosity was just incredible. In some cases we didn’t even have to ask – One guy called me up, Dan from North Carolina, said he was sending his brother over to install a six zone sprinkler system!”
Another volunteer from IDS tugged our arm and pulled us over to a group that included Lisa Aiello of Rich Designs, Dee Manicone of D. Manicone Designs, and Sandra Asdourian of Sandra Asdourian Interiors, “Look at these draperies! Kravet Fabrics donated all the fabrics! Then we had three suppliers do a ton of sewing for us. These curtains here are so well made, beautifully lined. It’s just so nice!”
“As a collaborative effort by designers from different places, we had a very eclectic collection of people who donated,” another of the three reflected, “Things came in from everywhere. I mean, we had a creative team of designers, but we really weren’t sure how we were going to make such a random variety of stuff work. It’s really remarkable how it all just fit!”
“All different pieces, odds and ends, really,” echoed Isabel Melo, Interior Designer and IDS member, “and it all WORKED. It’s such a feel-good project. I love how we all worked together for the same cause. WE DID IT!!!”
Yes, said Dee Manicone, “The real beauty of this project is the dedication and excitement of the entire team, who worked together and created the energy that you feel here. There are 100 people on that sign out there, and I’m still getting names to add!”
As we walked through the house, John Probst led us into one of the bedrooms, “This is a great project. Our whole family has been involved. My 8-year old son John helped me install the molding in this bedroom. I was grateful to be able to help – wish I could have done more!”
“What a great team effort. The gift baskets make me so happy,” said Sandra, referring to wrapped goodies on the two beds, “We’d tell somebody what we were working on and they’d just want to help.”
“This is a life changing gift,” said Dee, “We’re giving this veteran a start that would take years to accomplish. We’re getting to help him catapult 10-15 years ahead. We’re really happy to be able to give him this leg up.”
It wasn’t always easy. Some said it was impossible. They refused to be deterred.
“Everyone said it couldn’t be done. Today is proof that it could be done,” said Lisa Aiello of Rich designs.
Said Sandra Asdourian, “When a group of people have a common goal, anything is possible!”
“This was probably one of the best projects I’ve worked on with other designers,” Said Peggy Guerrin of Designs by Peggy, who worked closely with Ruth Seidenberg of Ruth S. Interiors, another committee member, “Then there were the industry partners, and the suppliers. When we asked them – especially when we told them it would benefit a veteran – they were so generous. We all came together to make this happen and we can’t wait to see the veteran and his reaction when he gets those keys!”
By the time we caught up with everyone in mid-June, 30-year old Marine Veteran, Kevin Palacios, had already been selected from dozens of applicants. He did two tours in Afghanistan, suffering the impacts of IED blasts twice. He has faced a lot, but has also endeavored mightily to get his civilian life in order. His main priority now is to be a good father to his two-year old son.
“I am so happy we have selected this particular veteran to give this home to,” said Sandra Asdourian, “The color of one of the rooms is Dignity Blue. Long before we chose this particular recipient, we chose this color, and I was always hoping there might be son to live here.”
The process to award the home, like the endeavor to build the house itself, was exceptionally thoughtful. Palacios knew he was a finalist, but didn’t think the award was going to occur until the 4th of July. He thought he was coming with fellow finalists for a last interview, serving on a panel explaining challenges returning veterans face, particularly when it comes to achieving home ownership.
It happened on June 25th. The setting was a Continuing Education accredited course designed to help Realtors serve veterans. It was hosted by Fairway Independent Mortgage and held at Brookhaven Town Hall. They brought in a talented National Trainer named Terri Murphy who also did an excellent job of emphasizing to attending veterans how much compassion, care and understanding a broker can bring to these unique clients, on and beyond simply understanding the technical process of VA loans. Steve Probst, a former national speaker himself who has clearly taken his leadership training seriously, chimed in at key moments with important information, including his own moving “Why” that makes him so dedicated to serving those who serve.
“This is what we work for as realtors,” said LI Board of Realtors (LIBOR) President Diane Scalza, ”It’s the American Dream to be able to have your own home. Look at what we accomplished today!
By the time they got around to bringing up the finalists, some folks’ eyes were already getting misty. Among the panelists brought up was a gentleman who had helped Kevin Palacios get a job, and another who had guided him through his higher education. He still didn’t seem to realize – or maybe didn’t dare to believe – what was happening. They showed a brief slideshow documenting the rebuild, and then handed Kevin the key. Far from the only one crying, he immediately went to go hug his mom.
Said his father, “Thank you. What a surprise. We are very thankful for everything.”
Later, still shocked but able to get his breath for a moment, Palacios reflected, “I just kept telling myself, ‘Don’t get your hopes up. Just go with it.’ I told myself I was just part of a panel, and then, out of nowhere, they said it.”
“What do I want to say?” he continued, “That this is for my son, Noel.”
“People think of New York as being impersonal,” reflected Terri Murphy, whose own home is Chicago, “but, you know, this was a flat-out, 5-year, full community demonstration of the heart of New York. You guys are unstoppable and limitless. What a way to show it!”
“When do you have the opportunity to thank a vet for his service in person and really give back something so meaningful to them?” asked Wendy Lepkoff of Wendy Interiors, Board Member of NARI and Vice President of the IDS Virtual Chapter, “That’s why I jumped. It’s not just money. It’s a mortgage free, decorated home.”
“I’m actually new to IDS,” reflected Sandra, “I joined in May 2018. At the first meeting I attended they talked about his project. I have three brothers and a dad who are each veterans. Two of them are career veterans, who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War. I have heard so much about what it’s like to have to constantly move from base to base, and about the things they see. When I heard this guy was a Purple Heart recipient, I was so in to help, especially because if something like that ever happened to one of my family members, this is what I’d hope would happen to them.”
“Personally,” said Peggy, “I’m happy to be able to give back to someone who gave so much for my family.”
Eric Vogel agreed, “Working with Coastal Cabinet Works as well as NARI and IDS enabled Coastal Cabinet Works and me the ability to give back, which is what it’s all about.”
John Hogan, past President and current Treasurer of NARI NYC/LI reflected on this, “As NARI Community Service Chairman, I have learned that our members and most people in our industry want to be charitable with their time and pocket books, and appreciate a push in the right direction. We prefer to work with credible organizations, so we know the people in need have been well vetted. In the last few years we have helped major renovations with Fairway Mortgage, Habitat for Humanity, Long Island Harvest, Make a Wish Foundation and Ronald McDonald House. I spend many weekends and nights, sometimes with dozens of NARI members, planning these projects. After a week of dealing with my customers, spending the weekend working for a great cause makes me feel great. I sleep better knowing I made a difference."
John is grateful to his company, Boston Cedar / US Lumber, for their donations and endorsement of his work on these projects, including his service on the Habitat For Humanity Suffolk County Board of directors.
Diane Scalza of the LI Board of Realtors added, “This is our 13th year as, basically, a group of realtors representing over 28,000 members, and I don’t know if people realize how much we give back. Each year we pick different projects and outreach campaigns to get behind. We’ve worked with Habitat for Humanity, Island Harvest, the Brooklyn Council of Churches. We’ve collected over 100,000 lbs of food to distribute to local food pantries. This, with Fairway Mortgage, has been very special. Today makes me really proud to be a realtor.”
Said Dean Camastro from HansGrohe, Vice President of IDS LI and NARI member, who with Dee Manicone, IDS LI Pay It Forward Committee chair, Steve Probst and Rosemarie Kluepfel of Fairway Independent Mortgage served to lead the endeavor, “It’s been a great project that’s really taken on a life of its own. This was just supposed to be a basic remodel, some paint and stuff. It became so much more.”
“This is a house. Through the generosity of the Long Island Community, we made it a home,” said Rosemarie Kluepfel, “This project benefits this veteran tremendously. It benefits his family. It’s good for the community. The ripple effect is tremendous.”
We are grateful.
Appreciating a Tour and Visionary Plans at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe
We are grateful that the rain held off while we traipsed about the property that holds Nikola Tesla’s last and only surviving laboratory, “Wardenclyffe,” last May. It was a privilege to listen to board member Neil Baggett talk about the great scientist and his time on Long Island, and plans to advance his legacy. While nothing can replace an in-person tour with a devoted expert – we highly recommend taking one if you can! -- here is a bit of what we learned:
Nikola Tesla was a highly prolific inventor, a gifted electrical and mechanical engineer, and a pioneering physicist. He was a futurist, an innovator and a risk-taker. As a deeply mysterious genius with a gift for showmanship who was reportedly born around midnight in the midst of a terrible lightning storm, many consider him a wizard. Some, even, a great mystic.
A true historian, Baggett’s philosophy about dealing with Tesla is to stick to what can be confirmed, “There’s a lot said about Tesla,” he remarks, “What we don’t know for sure, we try not to say.”
That goes for the board and staff of the developing Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. Others who support the effort to restore his laboratory and otherwise pay pilgrimage may subscribe to more speculative theories. When it comes to Tesla, these are in ample supply, ranging widely to include but hardly be limited to him being a mystic seer, a native of Venus who didn’t die but rather just went home, a champion of free power for the people undone by corporate bandits, and a mad scientist whose tower to power the world was more effective as a death ray which accidentally caused one of the largest, most unexplained explosions on record in Siberia by flipping a switch in Shoreham.
That’s fine, says Baggett, “They are free to believe what they wish. We stick to what we know.”
What we know is fascinating in its own right. Tesla was born in 1856 in Serbia, the son of a priest in the Serbian Orthodox Church. The rest of his family were military men and scholars. He stood 6’4” and throughout his adult life weighed almost invariably 142 pounds. He was a man of many quirks: Although he dressed elegantly and fancied crystals, he despised pearls to the point of being unable to speak to people wearing them. Touching hair and shaking hands were also taboo. He was obsessed with the number three and multiples thereof. There’s a Room 3327 with his name on it where he lived in the Hotel New Yorker.
Tesla worked exceptionally long hours, claiming 3am to 11pm, walked 8-10 miles per day, and hardly slept. Although he earned no academic degrees, he was granted 12 honorary ones. He spoke eight languages and was said to have a photographic memory that enabled him to memorize books and visualize plans in great detail before putting them down on paper.
Tesla first came to New York City at age 28. Prior to that, Tesla worked for the Continental Edison Company in Paris, France designing dynamos. Overseer Charles Batchelor found him to be brilliant to the point of sending Tesla overseas with a letter of recommendation that said, “Mr. Edison, I know two great men. You are one and this is the other.”
Tesla’s biggest and most elusive accomplishments were about electric power. Much is said about the “War of Currents” between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Tesla had invented the AC motor, but Edison used only DC power. After leaving Edison due at least in large part to this difference, Tesla spoke widely and was recognized as an “Extraordinary Electrician.” He was a strong proponent of AC power, which eventually won out in the United States despite Thomas Edison’s incredible efforts to make DC dominant.
Giants Among Men, Legendary Rivalries: Tesla, Edison and “The War of Currents”
Some believe quite strongly that Edison’s hard nose and exceptionally capitalistic, factory-driven approach to innovation played a large role in driving Tesla mad and undermining his success, to the detriment of humanity today. It is fairly well-documented that Tesla thought he had been promised a bonus of $50,000 (roughly $1.5M in 2019 dollars) for working out kinks in one of Edison’s DC projects, while Edison insisted that the somewhat younger, foreign-born genius didn’t understand American humor. It is also well documented that Edison secretly funded the first electric chair powered by his rival’s AC current which led to a brutal public display emphasizing his argument that AC was too dangerous. This was in addition to other unpleasant public shows, one of which famously included electrocuting an elephant.
Still, Baggett’s assessment is less accusatory: Although they were by no means great friends and had a massive split over the promised payment to Tesla and their diverging ideas regarding the best form of electric power, Tesla did win the 7th Edison Award, which he treasured for the rest of his life. Edison was a ruthless and often unsavory businessman, but Tesla’s solitary methods didn’t help him to thrive in the political and economic systems of human beings who – like it or no - ultimately end up determining who is rewarded and who is not. He had little close association with any big companies and the support systems that come with them. Fiercely independent, he didn’t collaborate easily. One exception was George Westinghouse, who played a major role in adopting Tesla’s AC system, which he then used during a major project conducted with both innovation giants. Westinghouse generated AC power at Niagara Falls and General Electric transmitted it to Buffalo. Edison participated as part of General Electric, into which his company had recently been merged by JP Morgan.
The World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition, celebrating the discovery of America in 1492, was planned for 1892. In 1893 it actually happened, hosting 27 million people. Westinghouse and Tesla generated the AC power that lit the fair. This marked Tesla’s most triumphant victory: Winning “The Current War.”
Ultimately, Tesla’s income largely came from patents, many of which he sold outright to Westinghouse. He agreed to forgo the AC motor royalties to keep Westinghouse afloat rather than ruin the company. Still, self-sacrificing though that may have been, one may still observe that this was a poor decision, especially as Westinghouse was a sharp businessman who likely could have taken care of himself. Plus, although it’s true he spent latter years of his life almost penniless, subsisting on meager fare and communing with pigeons, Tesla didn’t exactly live humbly or modestly, himself.
Prolific Invention & Fantastic Dreams; a “Worldwide Wireless Network”
Tesla’s inventions were many, not the least of which included the induction motor, neon and phosphorescent lights, and the remote control, which was used for a boat. Tesla made substantial contributions toward radio, so much so that although many still credit Guglielmo Marconi with the invention, a 1943 Supreme Court decision overturned many of Marconi’s patents to recognize Tesla as the primary pioneer. He also studied x-rays. As late as 1913, he designed a bladeless turbine that was used in flow meters, speedometers and odometers. In the 20’s he had already worked out details that basically envisioned the cellphone. His last patent was for a flying machine capable of vertical takeoffs.
In addition to Westinghouse, there were some other prominent supporters. John Jacob Astor gave Tesla $100,000 in 1899, which is roughly equivalent to $3.1M today. Astor felt burned, as he thought he was making a far more conservative investment in the continuing development of cool-bulb lighting systems while Tesla spent the funds on elusive dreams of powering the world in Colorado. Still, Astor did later work with him on aircraft and propulsion systems. This ended when Astor went down with the Titanic in 1912.
Another investor was JP Morgan, whose daughter Ann and Tesla were close friends, despite her penchant for pearls. Tesla had some success in Colorado, studying the effect of lightning bolts on the ground, getting wireless light bulbs to light within a field. He also produced a great deal of lightning with his own equipment, the impacts of which succeeded in burning his relationship with the El Paso Electric Company that had been providing him free power. Still, Tesla was convinced his experiments had him on the verge of a major breakthrough, enabling him to elicit $150,000 from Morgan in return for a 51 percent interest in his patents and inventions, including future ones.
This passionate pursuit of global energy and information transmission – a “Worldwide Wireless Network” -- is what brought him in 1901 to develop “Wardenclyffe,” his Shoreham, Long Island laboratory. (At that time, Wardenclyffe was the name of the village now called Shoreham.) At this point, communications between North America and Europe relied on a Trans-Atlantic cable. Tesla planned to send information through the earth without a cable. However, while Tesla’s construction was still underway, rival Marconi sent the letter “S” across the Atlantic in wireless Morse code, proving radio would work. Although, as mentioned, it was decided shortly after Tesla’s death that many of those patents should have rightfully gone to him, Tesla himself hadn’t pursued that line of research. He thought those signals, which travel in a straight line, were ineffective. In light of Marconi’s plans, he decided to go bigger. Despite Morgan’s refusal to supply further funding, Tesla persisted.
The tower at Wardenclyffe was a monstrous 187 feet high and 68 feet across, topped with a giant metal hemisphere and rooted with a grounding rod that ran 120’ down into the ground. Tesla envisioned this as the centerpiece of a system that would be equivalent to today’s cellular telephone system plus radio and television, and establish the Earth itself as one giant wireless power grid. A quote of Tesla's that we found on the Tesla Science Center website reads thus:
"As soon as completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant. In the same manner any picture, character, drawing, or print can be transferred from one to another place. Millions of such instruments can be operated from but one plant of this kind. More important than all of this, however, will be the transmission of power, without wires, which will be shown on a scale large enough to carry conviction."
Tesla was on a mission to provide free power to all, anywhere they happened to be. Baggett’s assessment of that is guarded, “We don’t know if he would have followed through on that. Only that he said he would.” Still, this was the stated intention, and Tesla was a patently terrible capitalist.
By 1915, Tesla had run out of money. Astor was dead and Morgan was no longer interested. His debt at the Waldorf-Astoria where he’d been living would have been valued at nearly $500,000 in 2019. The tower was dynamited for scrap to help pay for this. Tesla didn’t quash rumors that his tower had been used by Germans in World War I, in order to keep news of his personal ruin quiet.
Tesla lived until 1943. He had some successful inventions and awards, and a number of challenges both with his work and his mental health. His passion for pigeons found particular focus on an injured white bird that he claimed was his true love. He spent over $2,000 on that bird, building her a device to support her body while her bones repaired. In 1934, after some years of poverty, Westinghouse – for reasons not entirely clear – began paying him $125 per month plus his rent at the Hotel New York. This continued for the rest of Tesla’s life. He became famous for his birthday reports, which involved grand celebrations, memoirs and opinions, as well as grandiose claims that included, among other things, a motor that ran on cosmic rays, energy that ran counter to Einstein’s physics, metallurgical breakthroughs and photographs that captured thought.
Baggett will note that Tesla’s trajectory had one thing in common with Albert Einstein, who also experienced great success early on in his career, only to have his biggest dream – A Unified Field Theory – frustrate him until his passing. “People with this great a scope of dream find it tough to realize. Both were men of great vision. While his path was challenging, Tesla built and made great things.”
Serbia loves this genius son. Although he achieved US citizenship, Tesla is said to have been very proud to have been one of them. When he died in 1943, it is said that agents from the U.S. Federal Government inspected a safe that held a number of papers, some of which had been rumored to blueprint a Death Ray that Tesla believed terrible enough to successfully scare mankind away from war forever. No such plans were found. His beloved Edison Prize, also, has never been found. The nation of Serbia requested what remained of his estate. In 1957 it was all given to them. They are apparently still going through the papers to this very day.
Advancing the Legacy
While the property now owned by Friends of Science East is 16 acres, Tesla originally had 200. James Warden had built Wardenclyffe (now called Shoreham Village) to house wealthy New Yorkers in the summertime. Now, more of his land would be developed to add houses for workers at Tesla’s new power plant.
Between 1940 and 1987, the site was a photo processing plant owned first by Peerless Photo Products and then by Agfa Photo. Tesla’s lab essentially became a factory. Other buildings were constructed and are still on the site. Between 1987 and 2012, when folks came around to save the place, it basically became a jungle. There were three factors precipitating the purchase: the land was about to be re-zoned by the Town of Brookhaven, the hazardous materials cleanup had been concluded and the property was cleared for sale, and there was an interested European investor.
Baggett will tell you that he is thankful for what he sees as a series of miracles.
One is the crowdfunding miracle, led by a man who came forward to champion the cause, Matthew Boyd Inman, author of an online comic called The Oatmeal. Inman wrote a passionate piece: “Why Nikola Tesla was the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived'” He also launched an Indiegogo campaign with a goal of $850,000 to match a New Yorker state grant, buy the Agfa property, and save Tesla’s laboratory.
That goal was met with a climactic $33,333 donation from the producer of a film called “Fragments From Olympus – The Vision of Nikola Tesla.” It was then surpassed by donors who raised the total to more than a million dollars between August 15 and August 24, 2012. The campaign ended after 45 days, bringing the grand total raised to $1.37M. Contributions ranged from $1 to $35,000, with an average donation of about $40. Together with funds from a NYS matching grant, they had amassed over $2M.
On May 2nd, 2013, the members of the Board purchased the grounds. The next day saw the volunteer miracle, when local (and some distant) volunteers descended on the property, clearing the overgrown grounds in record time. They brought not only rakes and shovels, but bulldozers and electrical technology and legal assistance.
That fall, the nation of Serbia gifted a statue that now stands on the property surrounded by a patio crafted via an exceptionally creative buy-a-brick campaign. In 2014, also with the illustrated encouragement of Inman, complete with a tweet to provoke response, Elon Musk stepped up to pledge $1M and a Tesla charging station for his electric cars.
The donors as a whole are known as “Tesla Village.” They number roughly 33,000 people in 108 countries. Several Eagle Scout projects have also helped to move things along. Last August, the site was added to the US National Historic Register.
The board, itself, Baggett would describe as “regular people with ideas, dreams and a little bit of money.” During the first few years, most of the resources they had to offer came in the form of sweat equity. Now they have an Executive Director, Marc Alessi, and a growing staff to build and operate the Center. The board will focus on keeping the dream, setting goals to achieve it, approving the budget requests, and raising the money to fund them.
All in all, the progress to date has been an amazing show of the power of volunteers. The pervasive repetition of Tesla’s beloved number 3 and its numerological multiples (i.e., 108 countries is 1 + 0 + 8 = 9, also 108/3=36) is a source of delight to those involved.
Plans for the Site
A building called the “Bauer Residence” is one of the first on the slate for renovation. It will become an administrative building and visitor center. The vision is to recreate the lab and create a STEAM museum that honors Tesla’s memory and his legacy of visionary innovation.
Due to the post-Tesla history, the lab requires extra work. The photo processing equipment must be removed, as well as a second floor, stairs and various walls. Asbestos remediation has occurred. Mold issues remain, keeping them from opening the building to visitors just yet. Fortunately, some pictures exist and there are plans to meet with design professionals. They look forward to recreating the laboratory. While rebuilding the tower on the foundation stones that still exist may prove to be a tall order, there is already a small-scale, simple model on the grounds beside them that has been donated.
While they may still tear them all down, it is possible that some of the later buildings will prove useful, especially as diverse craft exhibits are intended to be a major part of what is expected to be a very active museum teeming with young STEAM students. There are also visions for an incubator of innovation designed to foster fledgling inventors and entrepreneurs. Already, there are several educational programs occurring with local partners. Most are off-site, but some – like Tesla’s upcoming birthday party, which is also celebrating the centennial of Tesla’s 1919 autobiography, My Inventions! -- are already making good use of the grounds. They look forward to advancing groundbreaking partnerships with experts, venture capitalists and investors.
“Maybe we’ll keep a few shares of whatever projects are launched here,” Baggett muses.
There are talks of having an exhibit about the Tesla automobile on site, especially as Elon Musk has promised the charging station. Baggett smiles as he relates a race from Detroit to NY that occurred between an old Model T Ford and a new Tesla not too long ago, “The Model T is slow, but a Tesla needs a long time to charge. It was close, but the Tesla won by half an hour!”
All in all, The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe promises to be a fitting tribute advancing the legacy of a unique person who was, ultimately, an American Icon.
Says Baggett, “We would love to see him more appreciated.”
Note: This article was amended to fix the name of the Hotel New Yorker in which Tesla lived. We had written Hotel New York. We also were mistaken in our understanding of what's required inside the lab, which has also been corrected and given further description. Some other minor adjustments were made to improve clarity and understanding. Any other errors here are our fault, and not that of the TSCW, which endeavors mightily to provide accurate information and clear up misunderstandings regarding Tesla. We are incredibly grateful to both Neil Baggett and Jane Alcorn for helping minimize any errors we may have made. Thank you!